Daily Egyptian

Ohio State, Ohio University allow ‘therapy animals’ in dormitories

By Mary Mogan Edwards, The Columbus Dispatch

The “emotional-support animals” that Kent State University tried unsuccessfully to ban from its residence halls are welcome at Ohio State University and other Ohio schools.

That makes every day better for Kaely-Marie Clapper, a first-year graduate student who shares an OSU apartment in the Neil building with her Chihuahua, January. Clapper has anxiety and “a little PTSD” from events of recent years that she didn’t want to discuss. January, whom she got as a Christmas present three years ago, has become a significant source of comfort and calm.

“If I didn’t have my dog, I wouldn’t be doing as well in school,” Clapper said. “I’d go back to my room and be moping.”

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January also goes with Clapper to some classes, as long as professors and classmates don’t object.

“I don’t take her to the ones where we’re singing,” said Clapper, who is pursuing a master’s in vocal pedagogy. “That wouldn’t be fair — she would want to sing, too.”

Kent State agreed last Monday to a $145,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by Jacqueline Luke, who in 2010 was denied permission to live in university housing with her dog. A psychologist had recommended the dog as a way to ease Luke’s anxiety.

Under the settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, Kent State also agreed to establish a policy providing “reasonable accommodation” of therapy dogs. It will pay $100,000 to Luke, $30,000 to an advocacy group that backed Luke and $15,000 to the federal government.

At Ohio State, Ohio University and Miami University, “therapy dogs” and other animals have been allowed for years, subject to a few qualifications. Students must have a statement from a therapist or doctor saying that they need the animal; also, the animal must behave.

Emotional-support animals are distinct from service animals such as guide dogs and dogs trained to aid people with physical disabilities. Universities must allow those animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law doesn’t address animals needed for emotional support, said Scott Lissner, Ohio State’s ADA coordinator.

But in Luke’s case, the court ruled that under the Fair Housing Act, the need for an emotional-support animal supersedes a no-pets policy.

The number of requests to accommodate therapy animals has risen in recent years, Lissner said. Students have asked mostly for dogs and cats, although requests have come in for a ferret, a guinea pig and a miniature horse.

Miami University has about 15 emotional-support animals, including at least one lizard, a bearded dragon, according to spokeswoman Ritter Hoy. Ohio University has five emotional-support animals.

When the issue of therapy animals arose a couple of years ago in a separate lawsuit involving the University of Nebraska, Ohio State wrote a policy expressly addressing it.

When requests come in, Toni Greenslade-Smith, Ohio State’s director of housing administration, works directly with the students. Many already have a willing roommate; if they don’t, she works to find a compatible one. Lissner makes sure to call any student who might be randomly assigned to a room with an animal in it.

“The only response I have ever gotten is, ‘Cool!'” he said.

Clapper took extra steps to make January a success at school. She and the dog took a six-week training course, which taught a stereotypically excitable breed to lie calmly with Clapper, to be comfortable with young children and to ignore distractions such as birds. January is even learning to rein in her barking, Clapper said.

“She barks at something three times, and she’s done,” Clapper said.

Clapper knows that some people view the need for an emotional-support animal skeptically, and for that, she blames people who game the system, falsely claiming a psychological need just so they can keep a pet with them everywhere.

“So many people abuse that privilege, it drives me up the wall,” she said.

“I have this dog because I need her. I wanted to be as responsible and on top of it as possible.”

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(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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